How (White) Women in the KKK Were Instrumental to Its Rise
Although Klansmen outnumbered Klanswomen by 6 to 1, at least half a million women (some claimed as many as 3 million) joined the movement, and that doesn’t count the many who participated in its public events and supported its ideas. In fact, women clamored to participate from the moment the second Klan reappeared. They contributed a new argument for the cause: that women’s emergence as active citizens would help purify the country. That claim may well have emerged only after the women’s suffrage amendment was ratified in 1920; before that, many Klanspeople of both sexes probably had doubts about the righteousness of women entering politics. Nevertheless, the claim that women might bring “family values” back into the nation’s governance — a claim made at the time in movements of all political hues — created a contradiction within conservative movements: Despite an ideological commitment to Victorian gender norms, including women’s domesticity, many conservative women enjoyed participating in politics. In fact, some Klanswomen interpreted political activism as a female responsibility. Then, once active, they often came to resent men’s attempts to control them and even challenged men’s power. Thus we meet a phenomenon that many progressive feminists found and still find anomalous — the existence not only of conservative feminism but even of bigoted feminism. Readers who have not already done so must rid themselves of notions that women’s politics are always kinder, gentler, and less racist than men’s.
Readers who have not already done so must rid themselves of notions that women’s politics are always kinder, gentler, and less racist than men’s.